U.S. Senator Bob Corker’s announcement Tuesday that he will not seek a third term next year has sent shockwaves through the political landscape of Tennessee. With an open Governor’s race, at least two open U.S. House seats, and the likelihood of two dozen State House and Senate seats being open, spending in next year’s GOP Primary election season was already expected to approach $70 million. Now, that number may approach $80 million!
The impact of the Corker announcement has already fueled speculation about who might run for his seat, and what impact that the decisions of potential Senate candidates could have on other races. Here is a quick rundown of some names already in the mix of discussion.
1. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R- TN-07). Marsha might not clear the field, but with over $3 million in her federal congressional account and strong con-servative credentials and name recognition courtesy of her many appearances on cable news networks, she would certainly give others pause if she gets into the race quickly. (If she hesitates, does Diane Black jump from the Governor’s race and with her personal funding advantage block Marsha from entering? That seems unlikely, unless Marsha hesitates for a while. Even if Marsha acts quickly, her decision could impact the Governors race. Williamson County businessman Bill Lee may be able to spend a few million statewide and not have much success, but a few million in a race for Marsha’s vacant congres-sional seat could be a very attractive option.) Odds on a Marsha Blackburn race appear high, but delay could allow others to jump in and muddy the waters for her. Rating: Likely.
2. Former Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN-08). The former west Tennessee Congressman chose to go home and focus on the family farm rather than seek reelection in 2016, which enabled David Kustoff to narrowly win that seat. Fincher has over $2 million remaining in his congressional election account which would give him a well-funded launch. Has told some people that he was thinking about 2020 and a potential Lamar Alexander retirement, but Corker’s decision may change his timetable. Rating: Probable.
3. Governor Bill Haslam. Certainly would have no funding issues, and despite his opposition to President Trump in the GOP Presidential Primary and refusal to vote for him in the general election that saw Trump carry 92 of 95 counties, Haslam would be a very formidable candidate. He hasn’t seemed to enjoy actually dealing and interacting with legislators, so the prospect of being one may not appeal to him. Rating: Possible, but unlikely.
4. State Senator Mark Green. Green was reportedly poised to enter the Senate race against Corker this week, but the Corker announcement will give him pause to see what Marsha Blackburn does. If Marsha doesn’t get in the race, Green will probably make the run; if she does run, then look for him to make a bid for her open Congressional seat. Like Bill Lee, Green can put a couple of million into a race from personal funds, which go a lot further in a Congres-sional race than in a statewide Senate race. Rating: Uncertain.
5. Andy Ogles. Ogles, who has strong grassroots connections across the state by virtue of spending the last several years as State Director of Americans for Prosperity, entered the race as a challenger to Corker and has GOP heavy-weight fundraiser Lee Beaman in his corner. An open seat may change the dynamic, depending on who gets in and who does not. Rating: Running, for now.
6. George Flinn. The Memphis medical doctor, radio station owner and inventor has made a couple of races for Congress and a Senate primary challenge to Lamar Alexander in 2014 with heavy reliance on his personal wealth to fund his campaigns. Like Lee and Green, a few million goes a lot further in a congres-sional race than statewide, but an open U.S. Senate seat might be tempting to him. Rating: Uncertain.
7. Joe Carr. The former State Representative was wanting to challenge Corker in a sequel to his “Beat Lamar” primary challenge to Lamar Alexander that fell short in 2014. With Corker out that may undermine his pitch. Depending on who else runs, his donors decision to back others may make the decision for him. Rating: Unlikely.
8. Others to watch: Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is running for the Congressional seat that is being vacated by Congressman Jimmy Duncan (R-TN-02) but had talked about a potential Senate race at one point. Rating: Unlikely. Memphis City Councilman Worth Morgan is a West Tennessee rising star with deep financial and political roots in Memphis (his family is the Morgan in what was Morgan-Stanley). May be a bit early for him to make a statewide run, but open seats don’t come along often and if the field gets crowded it could open the door for a lone West Tennessee candidate. Rating: Unlikely.
IF Blackburn runs, then her open 7th district congressional seat could see Mark Green and Bill Lee face off. If Lee passes another name to watch would be former State Party Chair Chip Saltsman, whose family farm is in the district. State Senator Jack Johnson of Williamson County could also enter the picture if no other Williamson County candidate emerges. The bottom line: chaos, and expensive chaos at that.